Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415



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I

‘We’re cur­rent­ly in­side the py­lon of a Tem­ple of Amun,’ be­gan Gaille, her voice echo­ing in the large cham­ber. ‘It was com­plet­ed un­der Ramess­es II, but it fell in­to dis­re­pair be­fore be­ing ex­ten­sive­ly re­built by the Ptolemies.’



‘And its con­nec­tion with Amar­na?’ prompt­ed Lily.

‘Yes,’ blushed Gaille. ‘For­give me.’

‘No need for for­give­ness. You’re a nat­ural. The cam­era loves you.’

‘Thanks.’ Gaille smiled wry­ly, her scep­ti­cism clear. ‘As you know, Egyp­tians typ­ical­ly built their mon­uments and tem­ples with mas­sive blocks of quar­ried stone, as with the pyra­mids. But cut­ting and trans­port­ing them was ex­pen­sive and time-​con­sum­ing, and Akhen­at­en was in a hur­ry. He want­ed new tem­ples to the At­en in Kar­nak and Amar­na, and he want­ed them now. So his en­gi­neers came up with a dif­fer­ent type of brick, these ta­latat. They weigh about a hun­dred pounds each, light enough for a sin­gle con­struc­tion work­er to heave in­to place by him­self, though it would­n’t have done much good for their backs. And af­ter the walls were com­plet­ed, they’d be carved and paint­ed in­to grand scenes, like a huge tele­vi­sion wall.’

‘So how did they get here?’

Gaille nod­ded. ‘Af­ter Akhen­at­en died, his suc­ces­sors de­ter­mined to de­stroy ev­ery trace of him and his heresy. Did you know that Tu­tankhamun’s name was orig­inal­ly Tu­tankhat­en. He was pres­sured in­to chang­ing it af­ter Akhen­at­en died. Names were in­cred­ibly im­por­tant back then. The An­cient Egyp­tians be­lieved that even say­ing some­one’s name helped sus­tain them in the af­ter­life, one rea­son why Akhen­aten’s name was de­lib­er­ate­ly ex­cised from tem­ples and mon­uments across the land. But his ta­latat suf­fered a dif­fer­ent fate. When his build­ings were dis­man­tled, the bricks were used as hard-​core for build­ing projects all across Egypt. So ev­ery time we ex­ca­vate a post-​Amar­na site, there’s a chance we’ll find some.’

‘And recre­ate the orig­inal scenes on Akhen­aten’s walls?’

‘That’s the idea. But it is­n’t easy. Imag­ine buy­ing a hun­dred jig­saw puz­zles, jum­bling all the pieces up to­geth­er, then throw­ing away nine­ty per cent and bash­ing up the rest with a ham­mer. But mak­ing sense of such things is what I do. It’s why Fa­ti­ma in­vit­ed me down here. I usu­al­ly work with an­cient texts, but the prin­ci­ple’s the same.’

‘How do you go about it?’

‘It’s eas­iest if I ex­plain with scrolls. Imag­ine find­ing thou­sands of frag­ments from dif­fer­ent doc­uments all mud­dled up to­geth­er. Your first task is to pho­to­graph them all to scale and at very high res­olu­tion, be­cause the orig­inal frag­ments are sim­ply too frag­ile to work with. You then ex­am­ine each one more close­ly. Is the ma­te­ri­al pa­pyrus or parch­ment? If pa­pyrus, what weave? If parch­ment, from what an­imal? We can test the DNA these days, would you be­lieve, to see if two frag­ments of parch­ment come from the same an­imal. What colour is it? How smooth? How thick? What does the re­verse look like? How about the ink? Has it smudged or bled? Can we anal­yse its chem­ical sig­na­ture? Is the nib thick or thin, reg­ular or scratchy? And what about the hand­writ­ing? Scrib­al hands are very dis­tinc­tive, though you have to be care­ful with that, be­cause peo­ple of­ten worked on more than one doc­ument, and some doc­uments were writ­ten by more than one scribe. Any­way, all that should help you sep­arate the ini­tial jum­ble in­to dif­fer­ent orig­inal scrolls; rather like sep­arat­ing the jig­saw pieces I men­tioned ear­li­er in­to their dif­fer­ent puz­zles. Your next task is to re­assem­ble them.’

‘How?’

‘Of­ten we’re al­ready fa­mil­iar with the texts,’ an­swered Gaille. ‘Like with the Book of the Dead, for in­stance. Then it’s just a ques­tion of trans­lat­ing the frag­ments and see­ing where they fit. But if it’s an orig­inal doc­ument – a let­ter, say – then we look for oth­er clues. Maybe a line of text that runs from one frag­ment to the next. If we’re very lucky, mul­ti­ple match­ing lines, putting it be­yond doubt. More usu­al­ly, how­ev­er, we’ll put sim­ilar themes to­geth­er. Two frag­ments on buri­al prac­tices, say. Or two episodes about a par­tic­ular per­son. Fail­ing that, frag­ments are, by def­ini­tion, dam­aged. Is there a pat­tern of dam­age? Imag­ine rolling a sheet of pa­per in­to a scroll, burn­ing a hole through all the lay­ers with a cigarette, then rip­ping it up. The burn-​holes won’t just help you re­assem­ble the scroll, they’ll al­so tell you how tight­ly it was rolled in the first place, by the steadi­ly de­creas­ing dis­tances be­tween them. And scribes of­ten scratched guide­lines on their parch­ment to keep their writ­ing lev­el. We can match those scratch­es from one frag­ment to the next, by tiny vari­ations in the gaps be­tween them, like check­ing tree rings.’

‘And there are sim­ilar in­di­ca­tions with ta­latat, are there?’

‘Yes,’ nod­ded Gaille. ‘Though they tend to be more elu­sive. For ex­am­ple, ta­latat are made ei­ther from lime­stone or sand­stone. Lime­stone ta­latat typ­ical­ly go with lime­stone; sand­stone with sand­stone. And the com­po­si­tion of the stone is use­ful, too, be­cause walls were of­ten built with stone from a sin­gle quar­ry. But you can’t re­ly too heav­ily on that. Paint residue can al­so be help­ful, as can weath­er-​dam­age. Maybe the bricks have been sun-​bleached. Or maybe there was a leaky pipe near­by, and they’ve got match­ing wa­ter stains. Any­way, once we’ve done what we can, we try to re­assem­ble them in­to scenes. Ta­latat are typ­ical­ly dec­orat­ed ei­ther on their long side, which we call “stretch­er­sâ€�, or on their short side, which we call “head­er­sâ€�. Egyp­tians used al­ter­nate cours­es of stretch­ers and head­ers. That re­al­ly helps. Af­ter that, it of­ten re­al­ly is a case of putting heads on tor­sos. For­tu­nate­ly, many of t a cas­man­he scenes are du­pli­cates of each oth­er, or of scenes that have al­ready been re­con­struct­ed from ta­latat found else­where, so we know what we’re look­ing for.’

Lily’s ears pricked up. ‘But not all?’ she asked shrewd­ly.

‘No,’ ac­knowl­edged Gaille. ‘Not all.’

‘You’ve found some­thing, haven’t you? That’s why you brought me down here.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Well? Aren’t you go­ing to tell me?’

‘Oh,’ said Gaille, drop­ping her eyes. ‘I think Fa­ti­ma wants that plea­sure for her­self.’

II

Knox picked up one of the shriv­elled ears. The tis­sue had a slight sheen to it where it had been sev­ered from the body, sug­gest­ing the cut was re­cent. He checked the lo­culi, quick­ly found a mum­my miss­ing its right ear, then an­oth­er. He frowned, baf­fled, be­fore be­lat­ed­ly re­mem­ber­ing he was on the clock. His self-​im­posed dead­line had al­ready passed. He need­ed to get out of here.



He hur­ried back to the atri­um, up the steps, was about to rush away when he heard an en­gine, and sud­den­ly the pick-​up reap­peared over the rise, its head­lights sweep­ing the shaft’s mouth like a light­house beam, so that Knox bare­ly had time to duck out of sight and re­treat back down to the atri­um.

Grif­fin and his crew were stor­ing ev­ery­thing in the cat­acombs, so he head­ed the oth­er way in­stead, down the right-​hand pas­sage. He soon reached an­oth­er cham­ber, a huge mo­sa­ic on its floor, tesser­ae bright from a re­cent clean, though rut­ted from an­cient foot­fall. A grotesque fig­ure sat naked in the lo­tus po­si­tion in­side a sev­en-​point­ed star sur­round­ed by clus­ters of Greek let­ters. He took a pho­to­graph, then a sec­ond, be­fore hear­ing a grunt from back along the cor­ri­dor, some­one strug­gling with a box – and com­ing his way. He hur­ried deep­er in­to the site, a con­fu­sion of pas­sages and small cham­bers, the walls dec­orat­ed with colour­ful an­cient mu­rals: a naked man and wom­an reach­ing up in sup­pli­ca­tion to the sun; Pri­apus leer­ing from be­hind a tree; a crocodile, dog and vul­ture sit­ting in judge­ment; Diony­sus stretch­ing out on a di­van, framed by vines and ivy leaves and pine cones. He was pho­tograph­ing this last one when he heard foot­steps and turned to see Grif­fin ap­proach­ing down the pas­sage, squint­ing through the dap­pled gloom as though he need­ed glass­es.

‘Rev­erend?’ he asked. ‘Is that you?’

III


In­spec­tor Naguib Hus­sein was writ­ing out his re­port at the sta­tion when his boss Gamal came over. ‘Don’t you have a wife and daugh­ter to get home to?’ he grunt­ed.

‘I thought you want­ed our pa­per­work up to date.’

‘I do,’ nod­ded Gamal. He perched on the cor­ner of the desk. ‘Word is, you found a body out in the East­ern Desert.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Naguib.

‘Mur­der?’

‘Her head was bashed in. She was wrapped in tarpaulin and buried be­neath sand. I’d say mur­der was a pos­si­bil­ity.’

‘A Copt, yes?’

‘A girl.’

‘In­ves­ti­gate, fine,’ scowled Gamal. ‘But no waves. This is­n’t the time.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘You know how I mean.’

‘I as­sure you I—’

‘Haven’t you learned yet when to speak and when to shut up?’ asked Gamal in ex­as­per­ation. ‘Don’t you re­al­ize how much trou­ble you caused your col­leagues up in Minya?’

‘They were sell­ing arms on the black mar­ket.’

‘I don’t care. There are crimes we can solve and crimes we can’t. Let’s deal with the ones we can, eh?’ He gave a com­pan­ion­able sigh, as though he did­n’t like the way things worked any more than Naguib did, he was just more re­al­is­tic. ‘Haven’t you been fol­low­ing what’s go­ing on down in As­si­ut?’ he asked. ‘Peo­ple out on the streets. Fights. Anger. Con­fronta­tion. Just for a cou­ple of dead Cop­tic girls. I won’t risk that spread­ing here.’

‘She may have been mur­dered,’ ob­served Naguib.

Gamal’s com­plex­ion was nat­ural­ly dark. It grew dark­er. ‘From what I un­der­stand, no one has re­port­ed her miss­ing. From what I un­der­stand, she could have been there years, maybe even decades. You re­al­ly want to pro­voke trou­ble at a time like this over a girl who may have been dead for decades?’

‘Since when has in­ves­ti­gat­ing mur­der been a provoca­tive act?’



‘Don’t play with me,’ scowled Gamal. ‘You’re...

‘Is that an or­der?’

‘If it needs to be,’ nod­ded Gamal. ‘If it needs to be.’

I

‘Rev­erend!’ said Grif­fin again. ‘A word please.’



Knox turned sharply and hur­ried away along the cor­ri­dor, glad that the gloom ev­ident­ly made his white shirt look suf­fi­cient­ly like a dog col­lar against his dark po­lo neck to fool Grif­fin.

‘Rev­erend!’ cried Grif­fin in ex­as­per­ation. ‘Come back. We need to talk.’

Knox con­tin­ued walk­ing as fast as he dared. The pas­sage straight­ened out, hit a dead end some twen­ty paces ahead. Just be­fore that, there was a high heap of an­cient bricks and plas­ter frag­ments and a gap­ing hole in the wall, through which he could hear Pe­ter­son read­ing from the Bible; though, from the ac­com­pa­ny­ing hiss, it sound­ed more like an old record­ing than the re­al thing.

‘“And there came two an­gels to Sodom; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot see­ing them rose up to meet them.â€�’

Knox reached the hole, glanced through. There was a large cham­ber on the oth­er side, young men and wom­en kneel­ing on dust­sheets clean­ing the walls with sponges moist­ened with dis­tilled wa­ter and soft-​bris­tled brush­es. The men had the stan­dard crew-​cuts, the wom­en short-​bobbed hair, and they were all wear­ing the same corn­flow­er-​blue and kha­ki liv­ery. They were too in­tent on their work to no­tice him step through in­to the cham­ber. On­ly once in­side did he see Pe­ter­son to his left, deep in earnest dis­cus­sion with a young wom­an, while his voice in­con­gru­ous­ly con­tin­ued to de­claim scrip­ture on the portable CD-​play­er in the cen­tre of the cham­ber.

‘“Be­hold now, I have two daug“2em” al­ihters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out un­to you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes.â€�’

Grif­fin was still ap­proach­ing down the cor­ri­dor. Knox had on­ly one pos­si­ble hid­ing place, the bap­tismal bath. His foot slipped as he hur­ried down the wide flight of stone steps so that he had to fight for bal­ance, but he found the shad­ows even as Grif­fin poked his head in. ‘Rev­erend!’ he said. Pe­ter­son gave no sign of hav­ing heard him, how­ev­er, so he said it again, loud­er this time, un­til one of the young wom­en turned the vol­ume down on the CD-​play­er. ‘Why on earth did you walk away from me?’

Pe­ter­son frowned. ‘What are you talk­ing about, Broth­er Grif­fin?’

Grif­fin scowled but let it go. ‘We’ve emp­tied the mag­azine,’ he said. ‘It’s time to close up.’

‘Not yet,’ said Pe­ter­son.

‘It’s go­ing to take hours to fill in the shaft,’ said Grif­fin. ‘If we don’t start now we’ll nev­er fin­ish be­fore—’

‘I said not yet.’

‘But—’

‘Have you for­got­ten why we’re here, Broth­er Grif­fin?’ blazed Pe­ter­son. ‘Have you for­got­ten whose work we’re do­ing?’

‘No, Rev­erend.’

‘Then go back out­side and wait. I’ll tell you when to start.’

‘Yes, Rev­erend.’

Foot­steps fad­ed as he walked away. The young wom­an turned the vol­ume back up.

‘“For we will de­stroy this place, be­cause the cry of them is wax­en great be­fore the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to de­stroy it.â€�’

Knox wait­ed a few mo­ments be­fore risk­ing a glance over the rim of the bap­tismal bath. Ev­ery­one was once more con­cen­trat­ing on clean­ing their sec­tion of wall, bring­ing an ar­ray of scenes back to life: por­traits, land­scapes, an­gels, demons, texts in Greek and Ara­ma­ic, math­emat­ical cal­cu­la­tions, signs of the Zo­di­ac and oth­er sym­bols. Like a mad­man’s night­mare. He pho­tographed the ceil­ing, two sec­tions of wall, then Pe­ter­son and the wom­an ex­am­in­ing a mu­ral.

‘“The sun was risen up­on the earth when Lot en­tered in­to Zoar. Then the Lord rained up­on Sodom and up­on Go­mor­rah brim­stone and fire from the Lord out of heav­en.â€�’

‘Rev­erend, sir!’ said a young man. ‘Look here!’

Knox ducked down, but not quite quick­ly enough. One of the wom­en saw him as she turned. Her mouth fell open in shock. She point­ed at him with a trem­bling fin­ger and be­gan to scream.

II

Meals with Fa­ti­ma were no­to­ri­ous­ly fru­gal af­fairs usu­al­ly, but tonight the ta­ble was laden with a colour­ful and fra­grant spread of dish­es in hon­our of Stafford and Lily: ta’amiyya, fu’ul, houm­mos, beans, tahi­na, a sal­ad of chopped toma­toes and cu­cum­ber sea­soned with oil and gar­lic, stuffed aubergines, chick­en dressed in vine leaves, all look­ing suc­cu­lent in the rip­pling can­dle­light. There were even two bot­tles of red wine, from which Stafford poured him­self a lib­er­al glass that he drained and im­me­di­ate­ly re­filled. For all Gaille’s dis­like of him, she had to ad­mit he was look­ing rather dash­ing, wear­ing a bor­rowed gal­abaya while his own clothes were be­ing washed in readi­ness for the morn­ing.



Lily was look­ing ner­vous­ly at the food, as though ap­pre­hen­sive both of lo­cal eti­quette and cui­sine. Gaille gave her a re­as­sur­ing nod and helped her­self to some of the safer dish­es, al­low­ing Lily to em­ulate her, which she did with a grate­ful smile.

‘Will you be in Egypt long?’ asked Fa­ti­ma, as Stafford sat next to her.

‘Amar­na to­mor­row, then As­si­ut the day af­ter for an in­ter­view. Then off to the States.’

‘You’re pack­ing an aw­ful lot in to two days, aren’t you?’

‘We were sup­posed to be here for the best part of a week,’ he shrugged. ‘But then my agent got me on the morn­ing shows. I could hard­ly turn that down, could I?’

‘No. I sup­pose not.’

‘It’s the on­ly mar­ket, the States. If you’re not big there, for­get about it. Any­way, we’re on­ly film­ing a short sec­tion here. We’re com­ing back lat­er in the year to film in …’ He caught him­self on the verge of his in­dis­cre­tion, smiled as though she’d al­most whee­dled great se­crets out of him. ‘For the oth­er sec­tions of my pro­gramme.’

‘Your pro­gramme, yes. Won’t you tell me a lit­tle more about it?’

He took an­oth­er swal­low of wine as he con­sid­ered this. ‘Will you give me your word that you won’t re­peat what I tell you?’

‘Of course. I would­n’t dream of telling any­one your the­ories, be­lieve me.’

‘Be­cause it’s ex­plo­sive, I as­sure you.’

‘It al­ways is.’

Stafford’s cheeks pinked, as though he’d on­ly just re­al­ized she’d been hav­ing a lit­tle sport with him. He lift­ed his chin high, giv­ing him­self a swan-​neck for a mo­ment. ‘Very well, then,’ he said. He wait­ed for si­lence to fall around the ta­ble, for them all to be still. Then he wait­ed a lit­tle longer, build­ing the sus­pense. An old sto­ry­teller’s trick, yet ef­fec­tive all the same. When fi­nal­ly he had their com­plete at­ten­tion, he leaned for­ward in­to the can­dle­light. ‘I in­tend to prove that Akhen­at­en was­n’t just an­oth­er Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty pharaoh,’ he said. ‘I in­tend to prove he was al­so founder of mod­ern Is­rael. That’s right. I in­tend to prove be­yond doubt or ar­gu­ment that Akhen­at­en was Moses, the man who led the Jews out of Egypt and in­to the Promised Land.’

III


Heads swiv­elled to see what had made the wom­an cry out. A shocked and frozen si­lence fell as they saw Knox crouch­ing there in the bap­tismal bath, cam­era-​phone in his hand. But it was Knox who act­ed first. He raced up the steps, dived head­long through the hole in the wall, crashed on­to the pas­sage floor out­side.

‘Stop him!’ thun­dered Pe­ter­son. ‘Bring him back!’

Up to his feet, sprint­ing through is­lands of lamp­light, yells be­hind, Knox glanced around as an ath­let­ic young man, face con­tort­ed with the joy of du­ty, flung him­self in­to a tack­le, tak­ing his legs. He went down hard, graz­ing his palm and el­bow on the rough stone, wind punched from his lungs, but twist­ing around, throw­ing the young man off, up and away to­wards the atri­um.

Grif­fin and one of the young men ap­peared in the door­way ahead, stand­ing shoul­der-​to-​shoul­der to block his es­cape. No way could he fight past both of them. He reached down and yanked the elec­tri­cal flex from the gen­er­ator, plung­ing the pas­sage in­to sud­den dark­ness, then shoul­der-​charung­ingldeged Grif­fin flat on­to his back, fought his way through his flail­ing arms in­to the atri­um then up the steps. The two oth­er young men were com­ing across, sum­moned by the com­mo­tion. Knox cut the oth­er way, over a low ridge, run­ning head­long un­til he crashed in­to the wire-​mesh fence of the neigh­bour­ing pow­er sta­tion.



He ran alongside it for a couple of hundred metres, trying...

I

‘Ah,’ sighed Fa­ti­ma. ‘Akhen­at­en as Moses. That old chest­nut. I can’t tell you how many first-​year stu­dents of mine have come to the same con­clu­sion.’



‘Per­haps for a very good rea­son,’ said Stafford tight­ly. ‘Per­haps be­cause it’s true.’

‘And you have ev­idence to sup­port such a bold claim, I as­sume?’

‘As it hap­pens.’

‘Won’t you share it with us?’

Lily bowed her head and looked un­com­fort­ably down at her plate. This was­n’t the first time she’d been ring­side when Stafford had launched in­to one of his lec­tures. She hat­ed it, not least be­cause it al­ways seemed to be down to her to smooth things over once he was done.

‘It’s not so much that I’ve dis­cov­ered any­thing new,’ he ac­knowl­edged. ‘It’s just that no one else has put the pieces to­geth­er in quite the right way be­fore. Af­ter all, even you have to ad­mit some link be­tween Akhen­at­en and the Jews, if you’re hon­est with your­self.’

‘What ex­act­ly do you mean by that?’

‘Ev­ery­one knows that Egyp­tol­ogists have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to the Ex­odus. It’s too sen­si­tive an is­sue for a Mus­lim coun­try in this day and age. I’m not crit­iciz­ing you for this—’

‘It sounds that way to me.’

‘I’m on­ly say­ing I un­der­stand why you’d look the oth­er way.’

‘Quite a feat, what with my head al­ready buried in the sand.’

‘You know what I mean.’

‘Yes,’ said Fa­ti­ma. ‘You be­lieve I’d dis­tort the ar­chae­olog­ical record for per­son­al con­ve­nience or pro­fes­sion­al ad­vance­ment.’

‘For­give us,’ said Lily hur­ried­ly. ‘Charles did­n’t mean that. Did you, Charles?’

‘Of course not,’ said Stafford. ‘I was talk­ing about the es­tab­lish­ment in gen­er­al. So-​called Egypt ex­perts who refuse even to con­sid­er that the Bible might have light to shed up­on Egyp­tian his­to­ry.’

‘Which peo­ple are these?’ asked Fa­ti­ma. ‘I’ve nev­er met any.’

‘I don’t sug­gest for a mo­ment that the Bible is strict­ly fac­tu­al,’ con­tin­ued Stafford. ‘But clear­ly it’s by far our best ac­count of Ju­dais­m’s ori­gins. Who can doubt, for ex­am­ple, that a of Ju­daisslave pop­ula­tion lat­er known as the Jews were present in Egypt in large num­bers some­time dur­ing the sec­ond mil­len­ni­um BC? And who can doubt that they came in­to con­flict with their Egyp­tian mas­ters and fled in a mass ex­odus, led by a man they called Moses? Or that they stormed and de­stroyed Jeri­cho and oth­er cities be­fore set­tling in and around Jerusalem. That’s the skele­ton of what hap­pened. Our job as his­to­ri­ans is to flesh those bones out as best we can.’

‘Oh,’ said Fa­ti­ma. ‘That’s our job, is it?’

‘Yes,’ said Stafford com­pla­cent­ly. ‘It is. And if we do, we straight­away en­counter a prob­lem. Be­cause there’s no ob­vi­ous Egyp­tian ac­count of any such ex­odus. Of course, it was­n’t any­thing like so sig­nif­icant for the Egyp­tians as for the Jews, just the flight of a group of slaves, so that’s un­der­stand­able enough. And it’s not as though we’re com­plete­ly with­out clues to work with. For ex­am­ple, Gen­esis cred­its Joseph with bring­ing the He­brews to Egypt. And char­iots are men­tioned not once, not twice, but three times in Joseph’s sto­ry. But the Egyp­tians did­n’t have char­iots be­fore the Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty, so the Jews can’t pos­si­bly even have ar­rived in Egypt be­fore the mid six­teenth-​cen­tu­ry BC. And then there’s the Mernep­tah Stele, which records a vic­to­ry over the tribe of Is­rael in Canaan, so the Ex­odus must have al­ready tak­en place by the time it was in­scribed, around 1225 BC. So now we have a brack­et of dates: 1550–1225 BC. Or, to put it an­oth­er way, some­time dur­ing the Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty. Agreed?’

‘Your log­ic ap­pears im­pec­ca­ble,’ said Fa­ti­ma.

‘Thank you,’ said Stafford. ‘Now let’s see if we can’t nar­row it down fur­ther. The Ptolemies com­mis­sioned a man called Manetho to write a his­to­ry of Egypt. His King List still forms the ba­sis for our un­der­stand­ing of the an­cient dy­nas­tic struc­ture.’

‘You don’t say.’

‘Manetho was an Egyp­tian high priest, and he had ac­cess to the records of the Tem­ple of Amun in He­liopo­lis. He iden­ti­fied a man called Os­arseph as the bib­li­cal Moses. This Os­arseph was high priest to a Pharaoh Amen­hotep, and ap­par­ent­ly he built up a fol­low­ing among out­casts and lep­ers. He be­came so pow­er­ful that the gods came to Amen­hotep in a dream and or­dered him to drive Os­arseph from Egypt, but Os­arseph drove out Amen­hotep in­stead, es­tab­lish­ing a thir­teen-​year reign be­fore he was fi­nal­ly ex­pelled. So. Not on­ly do we have our in­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion of the Ex­odus, we al­so have a mas­sive clue in our search for Moses. This man Os­arseph. This Pharaoh Amen­hotep.’

‘There were four Pharaoh Amen­hoteps dur­ing the Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty. Which one do you sup­pose Manetho was re­fer­ring to?’

‘He said that the pharaoh had a son called Ramess­es. Ramess­es was a Nine­teenth Dy­nasty name, so Manetho was clear­ly re­fer­ring to one of the lat­er, not ear­li­er, Amen­hoteps.’

‘Ah. I see.’

‘Now, Os­arseph’s thir­teen-​year reign might ap­pear to be a prob­lem, be­cause we have no oth­er record of a Pharaoh Os­arseph, or of any Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty pharaoh rul­ing for thir­teen years. But let’s take a clos­er look at our var­ious can­di­dates. Ay or Horemheb, maybe. Nei­ther was of roy­al birth, one be­ing a vizier be­fore he as­cend­ed the throne, the oth­er a gen­er­al. But Ay reigned just four years; and Horemhe­b’s nine­teen years were large­ly or­tho­dox and pros­per­ous. Smenkhkare last­ed just a few months, while Tu­tankhamun was on­ly a young­ster when he died. None of them fit. But we have one pos­si­bili­er whe­posty left. Akhen­at­en. He suc­ceed­ed his fa­ther Amen­hotep III. And though he ruled for sev­en­teen years in all, some­thing ex­traor­di­nary ev­ident­ly hap­pened dur­ing his fifth year. Not on­ly did he change his name, he al­so found­ed his new cap­ital city of Akhetat­en, the place we know as Amar­na, from where he ruled un­til 1332 BC. Thir­teen forty-​five to 1332. Tell me: how many years is that?’

‘Thir­teen,’ said Fa­ti­ma.

‘Ex­act­ly,’ nod­ded Stafford. ‘So we have our match, su­per­fi­cial­ly at least. But that rais­es oth­er ques­tions. For ex­am­ple, why would any­one con­sid­er Akhen­at­en an in­ter­lop­er? He was the le­git­imate pharaoh, af­ter all. And, apart from Manetho’s as­ser­tion, is there any­thing else to con­nect Akhen­at­en with Moses?’

Fa­ti­ma spread her hands. ‘Well? Aren’t you go­ing to put us out of our sus­pense?’

II

Knox crossed a low hum­mock of rock, glanced around. The pur­suit was get­ting clos­er all the time. His breath was hard and hot, his stitch jab­bing sharp. The moon slid be­hind a rare drift of night­time cloud. He used the greater dark­ness to cut right, away from the fence, run­ning al­most blind. But then the moon reap­peared and he saw plas­tic sheet­ing ahead. The ceme­tery. A cry went up be­hind him. He ran to­wards the ir­ri­ga­tion chan­nel, slith­ered down the bank, splashed weari­ly through the wa­ter at the foot, clam­ber­ing up the oth­er side, his shoes clot­ting with wa­ter and mud.



A pair of head­lamps ap­peared to his right, one of the pick-​ups. It ac­cel­er­at­ed down the lane to­wards him, doors fly­ing open, two young men jump­ing out. Knox vault­ed the gate near where he’d parked, but there was no sign of Omar or the Jeep on the oth­er side – oth­er than the tracks it had left in the earth, at least.

He jud­dered to a halt, hands on his knees, heav­ing for air, his thighs weight­ed down with lac­tic acid. Three young men ar­rived at the gate be­hind him, climb­ing it with­out great hur­ry, con­fi­dent they had their man. The breeze pressed Knox’s soak­ing shirt against his skin. The chill of the night, cou­pled with ap­pre­hen­sion, rip­pled a shiv­er right through him.

An old en­gine roared. Knox turned to see the Jeep bump­ing to­wards him, Omar at the wheel, its pas­sen­ger door al­ready flap­ping open. Knox ran to meet it, tum­bled in­side, slammed and locked the door even as his pur­suers made a last ef­fort to catch him, sur­round­ing the Jeep, pound­ing on the win­dows, faces ug­ly with frus­tra­tion as Omar swung the wheel around, crunch­ing up through the gears as they jolt­ed their es­cape across the field.

III


Pe­ter­son gripped his King James Ver­sion tight as he stared at the paint­ed sec­tion of wall that had been drawn to his at­ten­tion by Michael just be­fore Knox had been dis­cov­ered. The dis­tilled wa­ter had cleaned off the thick coat of dirt, and re­vived the un­der­ly­ing pig­ments too, so that the mu­ral glowed clear­ly: two men in white robes emerg­ing from a cave, a fig­ure in blue kneel­ing be­fore them, a sin­gle line of text be­neath.

Pe­ter­son had come late to lan­guages, but his Greek was good enough for this, not least be­cause the phrase had showed up in his night­mares this past decade, ev­er since he’d first en­coun­tered the Car­pocra­tians.

Son of David, have mer­cy on me.

The blood rushed from his head, leav­ing him so dizzy that he had to put a hand against the wall to steady him­self.

Son of David, have mer­cy on me.

And Knox had had a cam­era! Of all peo­ple! Knox! A heavy dull thump­ing in his chest, like a dis­tant steel-​press. What had he done? He looked around. Ev­ery­one else had chased off af­ter Knox, leav­ing him alone. That was some­thing. He picked up a rock ham­mer and at­tacked the wall fu­ri­ous­ly, vent­ing his rage and fear on it, hack­ing wild­ly at the plas­ter un­til it lay in dust and frag­ments on the floor. He leaned against the wall, breath­ing heav­ily, be­fore sens­ing he had com­pa­ny. He turned to see Grif­fin star­ing hor­ri­fied at him, at what he’d done.

‘Well?’ de­mand­ed Pe­ter­son, turn­ing de­fence in­to at­tack. ‘Did you catch him?’

Grif­fin shook his head. ‘Taw­fiq was wait­ing in the fields.’

‘You let them get away? Don’t you know what dam­age they can do?’

‘They can’t get far. The on­ly way out of those fields is by that old bridge. Nathan’s gone to wait there.’


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